Decade-Old Errors in Busing Maps Hurt Lakewood Kids
Helping children get to and from school in a safe manner, with a reliable busing schedule, has been a major focus of Lakewood, NJ, parents, elected officials and school administrators these past months. Special state legislation was drafted and passed this summer that continued providing no-cost busing for most non-mandated nonpublic school students in Lakewood. That legislation passed due to the joint efforts of the Lakewood Vaad and the Igud Hamosdos, assisted by Rabbi Avi Schnall of Agudath Israel, Barry Iann, president of the Board of Ed, Committeeman Meir Lichtenstein, and other askanim.
As a result of the legislation, busing was restored to students who reside below the home-to-school distance for which busing is mandated, which is 2.01 miles from elementary school and 2.51 miles from high school.
Busing for all of Lakewood’s nearly 30,000 nonpublic school students, both mandated and non-mandated, is now administered through the legislation’s newly-created independent entity, the Lakewood Student Transportation Authority (LSTA), as opposed to transport being provided by the Lakewood Public School District. The LSTA was created by the State of New Jersey legislative statute and is directed by Avraham Krawiec.
The LSTA began operating shortly before the 2016-17 school year commenced, and has successfully arranged proper busing to and from school for the majority of nonpublic school students.
In recent weeks, the LSTA has arranged transportation for hundreds of additional students, and is working feverishly to provide transportation for every single remaining student. Unfortunately, however, there are still approximately 500 who lack busing, and another approximately 1,500 who lack busing one way to school.
As the LSTA continues working on the matter, it made a shocking discovery that helps explain why school busing had been such a challenge in recent years, and continues to be challenging, despite the progress.
In order to provide the most optimal service, the LSTA recently purchased “Versatrans” software that is used for school bus route mapping. The software, which has also been used by the public school district for years, came loaded with the maps that the district has been using for its busing. While training its employees in the new software, LSTA officials discovered that the district’s maps have not been properly updated since 2004 – over twelve years ago. Some of the information on the maps is significantly older than that as well.
“This may be costing Lakewood millions of dollars, and reflects a frozen bureaucracy,” remarks Rabbi Krawiec. “You can’t believe it unless you see it. We literally have bus routes going through people’s dining rooms.”
The number of new homes, streets and neighborhoods that have been added to Lakewood since 2004 is significant. Instead of properly updating the maps live, over the past decade the district officials updated it manually. The manual updates resulted in countless serious errors throughout the Lakewood map, including misplaced streets, missing streets, cul-de-sacs showing as thru streets, and schools in the wrong locations.
An even bigger issue is that many new schools have opened and others have changed locations during that time period. The LSTA has identified over 55 mapping errors regarding school locations alone. Forty schools were placed on the wrong side of the street. Five schools moved locations, but were not updated in the system. Yet others had the wrong pickup and/or drop-off location on the map.
This is a major contributor to the current school busing woes. The map has made it difficult to properly map bus routes. The bus companies and drivers may have figured out where to pick up and drop off students, but an untold number of routes were showing as unnecessarily long, or showing as shorter than they really are.
Of particular financial importance, the LSTA estimates that there are a large number of students, likely in the thousands, who have been improperly classified as being “non-mandated” by the BOE, since the distance from their home to school was improperly calculated. It is estimated that this improper classification has shortchanged Lakewood transportation funding for non-public school students by as much as $1 million a year or more. (Non-mandated students do not receive government funding. The “aid in lieu” funding for mandated nonpublic school students is directed by the new legislation to the LSTA to provide transportation for all nonpublic school students.)
The LSTA is now working to rectify the matter. The LSTA will have access to fully updated, live Versatrans maps within a few weeks to compile the most time- and cost-efficient routes. It is also recalculating the number of mandated versus non-mandated students and ensuring that it receives the full funding deserved, which will help cover transportation costs for all students.
Rabbi Yisroel Schenkolewski, director of the LSTA board and member of the Lakewood Vaad, recently sent a letter to the Lakewood Township Committee informing them of these discrepancies, and asking that action be taken by the Township and Board of Ed. Both the Township and the BOE responded to the letter, with their full commitment to ensure that no Lakewood family is shortchanged. Deputy Mayor Menashe Miller referred the issue to Township Engineer Terry Vogt, who provided the LSTA with an official updated map. A fully updated 2017 map is being worked on to enable the LSTA to get fully accurate data on mandated and non-mandated students, funding entitlements and route planning.
According to Board of Ed President Barry Iann, “This is one more indication of the how badly the district needs to modernize its systems and personnel.” He expressed the board’s commitment to fix the mapping problem on their end as fast as possible and to ensure the success of the LSTA.
The LSTA and askanim are working to ensure that full funding is provided in the months and years ahead, which will help ensure that all children enjoy the transportation they deserve. The LSTA is also exploring various avenues to recoup the funding that Lakewood was shortchanged by the state over the past decade due to the erroneous district maps.
“We will not rest until every Lakewood student receives the efficient, safe no-cost transportation that he or she is entitled to,” says Benny Heinemann, member of the Lakewood Vaad. “We are thankful that this issue has been discovered and progress has been made towards a resolution.”